City chickens and urban bees..

..or is it urban chickens and city bees. I suppose it’s no matter. You and you and you were not there.

It’s been a long time coming, but this evening I finally popped my Slow Food cherry and attended a seminar held by the Gotham Slow Food chapter on urban agriculture. The focus of this Slow U event was beekeeping and chickens. In the agricultural dance, the egg and honey are upper echelon members of my prandium pyramid. And I’m still wanting both for pets. As a child I dreamt of wrangling some bees to keep them on threads flying about my head. I had some silly ideas then. I have silly ideas now too. But two wild poodles are a handful so I’ll hold off on that one a while longer. As for chicken aspirations, my coop, co-cop crows no.

Speaking of wild dogs, tonights lunar eclipse had the poodles in some kind of agitated state, or so I chose to think. And seems the pack leaders of the neighborhood were nearly the only folks interested in what happened in our sky. The little man is now closer to a rendezvous with his secret Spanish lady love from afar; they barked within paws length of each other. And a dashing, handsome new neighbor, a caramel standard rescued from somewhere Upstate nearly had little red girl in a blush and she became very shy. If you’re a pack leader you’ll know what I’m talking about. Indeed the dogs were rowdy tonight but the lunar eclipse never seemed fully eclipsed. Lucky no man of conquest waged their life on this one. But the kite like formation between the moon, Saturn, and two stars were, cosmic. I digress, as I tend to do..

Tonights Slow U event–u, as in you (should) live slow, not slow university as one might suspect–included a panel of folks whose hands work with chickens, beekeeping, and other urban agricultural sundries.

Dave Graves, aka the Beeman, who skirts Gothams’ anti-bee laws, tends beehives around Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. He’s been selling at the Greenmarket for years and his nectar is delicious. We tasted three varieties–one from his Berkshires farm, a Chinese scholar tree, and a Japanese knotweed. I especially loved the Chinese scholar. Its flavour is described as ‘summer flowery’, ooh it was delightful. The Japanese knotwood is Dave’s favourite for it “tastes the way honey is intended” with a slight caramel flavour. An interesting factoid he shared, Gotham failed to eradicate the Japanese knotweed so this variety remains available for our pleasure. He’s currently out of stock of the Bradford pear. This is the tree Gotham will plant when you call 311 and request a tree be planted in front of your building. It bears no fruit but the big blossoms are perfect for bees to forage from.

An intern from Just Food briefed the group on her research into beekeeping in cities around the country. San Francisco has no restrictions on beekeeping. Chicago added beehives to their City Hall rooftop gardens in 02005, and also created a work program for ex convicts, who may have a tough time finding work in legitimate occupations. Seattle and Vancouver also ride the bee-wagon. Though bees remain outlaws in Gotham. But if you have bipedal kiddies, head out to Staten Island to their Children’s Museum where they have a beekeeper on staff and live beehives on exhibit.

What do bees have in common with chickens? They both fly and they both come in the mail. Declan Walsh, a chicken farmer in Red Hook, Brooklyn gave the room a guffaw when he opened with this one. For those of the NYTimes reading persuasion, you may recall Declan and his wife Maria Mackin from an article published back in October. They are part of a movement of urban folks who keep chickens as pets. Until recently they kept 40 hens; five were sacrificed for a dinner they hosted. Cry not for the chickens. Mackin suspected, charged, convicted, and sentenced them to death. The charge, poaching. Walsh explained chickens have a taste for eggs and once they get a taste for it, there’s no curtailing the habit. On the brighter side of this chicken story, they reduce food waste as chickens eat just about anything–but not another chicken. To help the hens produce new shells for their eggs, they are fed ground up shells. At the end of their egg laying days, if a hen doesn’t emerge from their molt to lay more eggs, it’s off to the Chinese market for a dressing they go. In industrial production, hens are not afforded this last opportunity, indeed they’re forced into it. Read Pollan’s dilemma for more on that. I am yet to visit and see firsthand that cycle of hell. Back to the light. Walsh emphasized that for urban gardens and farms, chickens are the perfect ecological solution for fertilizing needs.

Owen Taylor, the livestock coordinator for Just Food gave the lowdown of their programs. Their City Chicken program provides education and support for newbie and experienced chicken-keepers. In Gotham, did you know you can keep hens but is illegal to keep roosters? Can you guess why the law is as such? You are correct. When your rooster crows, the police come’a’knockin’. City folks aren’t looking to be woken at the crack of dawn or whenever your particular rooster gets his crow on each day. Though I am now enlightened to the regimented schedule they keep. Just Food publishes a City Chicken Guide for folks interested in keeping chickens and is available through their website.

During the panel we ate a frittata prepared with eggs from Walshs’ chickens. They were rich and deep orange as he proudly, and rightly boasted. If you’d like to try some for yourself, they are available at Tini’s wine bar in Red Hook where weekend brunch is served. Tonights wine tasting was compliments of Moore brothers wine company, where the event also took place in their upstairs club room. Moore brothers buy direct from over one hundred producers in France, Italy, and Germany. It seems biodynamic is the new organic.

Buenas noches..

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